Planting Seeds

Like gardeners everywhere, in late winter seed catalogs flood into my virtual and real mailboxes, and I begin dreaming of spring, moist soil, and planting.

Until a few years ago, that was a major endeavor, since I maintained a raised-bed edible garden that was ridiculously large for the two people who were its primary consumers (friends and family benefited from my largese), along with borders of herbs, ornamentals, and native species for pollinator and songbird habitat. Plus half a block of perennial mountain prairie and a block of creek frontage. 

After the involuntary downsizing of my life when my love, Richard Cabe, died of brain cancer, I downsized my house and garden as well, to suit my unasked-for solo life. Now, my edible plants and herbs, plus some pollinator plants, occupy varying-sized containers on my front deck (out of the reach of the neighborhood deer herd). Which means that starting seeds in late winter for my summer garden isn’t quite the huge operation it used to be. 

Part of my front-deck container garden, including tomato plants in the round stock-tank under the green umbrella. 

And that’s a good thing, because this year, I somehow let February go by without starting my tomato, basil, and annual container flowers. I just clean forgot about starting seeds, perhaps because I was away teaching my Write & Retreat workshop in southern New Mexico. 

So today, when my belated order of seeds arrived in the mail from Renee’s Garden, I headed out to the garage to unearth a seed-starting flat, and my special organic seedling potting soil. I found the flat, mended the cracked corners of its tray with duct tape so they wouldn’t leak, and then went to look for the seedling soil mix. No dice. I had forgotten to order it, too. 

Bags of organic potting-soil components, plus a mixing bucket.

Okay, on to Plan B. Under the potting bench in my little workshop, I found some organic potting soil of a fine texture suitable for seedlings, and some sieved organic compost. So I just mixed some of the latter into some of the former in a galvanized bucket, and called it good. (I’ll let you know how well it works!)

Seed-starting tray with pots full of homemade organic soil mix

I filled each of the 40 pots in the seedling tray to the brim, and carried the tray and the electric heat-mat that goes under it to hasten germination and encourage strong root growth, into the house and placed the mat with tray on top on the shelf in front of my south-facing living-room windows, my winter “greenhouse” space.  

I lifted the seedling pots up and watered the wicking mat in the tray, and then began to plant my tomato, basil, and annual flower seeds.

One row of Renee’s ‘Inca Jewels’, a Roma-type tomato bred especially for containers and small spaces, two seeds to a pot for a potential of ten plants. (I need just one plant of each tomato variety, but I like to share my favorite home-grown plants since these varieties are rarely available commercially.) One row of ‘Heirloom Stupice,’ another variety especially suited to container gardening, with wonderfully rich-flavored fruits. And one row of ‘Pandorino,’ an Italian grape-sized tomato for fresh eating.

Two rows of Renee’s ‘Italian Cameo’ basil, a large-leafed variety also good in containers and which makes delicious pesto. (There is no such thing as too much basil in my world!)

And three rows of flowers: Purity cosmos (a white cosmos for butterflies), Cabaret zinnias (for summer bouquets), and heritage yellow four-o-clocks that have flourished around the Victorian-era houses in my neighborhood since our town was platted on a wind-swept mountain-prairie bench along the Arkansas River in 1879. 

Seedling pots filled, watered, and labeled…

I watered the pots from above, soaking the potting soil thoroughly. And then I labeled each row so I’d remember what the sprouts are.

If all goes well, in a little over a week, the first sprouts will begin to emerge. As spring snows soak the ground outside, a feathery forest of seedlings will grow on my living-room shelf, reaching for sun, spring, and planting time.


Next weekend, I may not be able to blog as I’ll be away giving a keynote speech at Colorado’s first-ever Native Plants in Landscaping conference. My task is to so inspire the conference attendees that the message about why natives matter ripples outward like a swelling tide. 

Why bring native plants home to where we live, work, and play? Here’s the final slide of my presentation to give you an idea: